Ladysmith Black Mambazo Timeline 1960 - 1986
The first incarnation of Ladysmith Black Mambazo was Ezimnyama (The Black Ones), formed by Shabalala in December 1960. The members of the group were relatives (mostly brothers and cousins) of Shabalala, with many having sung with him while he was growing up on the farm where he was born. Although the group did sing well together and captured the sound of cothoza mfana (tip toe boys, a 1960s slang term for isicathamiya) and mbube groups of the time, they were unknown outside of the Ladysmith district.
In 1964, Shabalala had a series of recurring dreams during his sleep, over a period of six months, featuring a choir singing in perfect harmony. Shabalala described this as a beautiful sound, and one not yet achieved by his group at the time. As a result, he reformed the group as Ladysmith Black Mambazo and strived to teach them the harmonies from his dream. Shabalala invented the name from the hometown of his family, Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal; the black ox, considered to be the strongest farm animal; and mambazo, which means axe in the Zulu language, and is symbolic of the choir's ability to "chop down" the competition. Shabalala entered the group into isicathamiya competitions, held on Saturday nights in areas of Durban and Johannesburg. The group won nearly every competition that was held; eventually, by 1973, they were forbidden to compete with the other choirs. They were, however, welcome to perform without taking part in the competition itself.
In 1967, the group began to make recordings for Radio Zulu, and then signed with West Nkosi in 1972; Nkosi was a member of the mbaqanga backing unit, Makgona Tsohle Band, and a music producer at Gallo Record Company. Ladysmith Black Mambazo released their first album the following year, Amabutho, which received gold status, and was the first album by a black musician or group in South Africa to do so. Their subsequent albums also received gold or platinum certification. With the release of their second album, they had become professional singers.
In 1975, Shabalala converted to Christianity and the group released their first religious album, Ukukhanya Kwelanga, not long afterwards. It earned a double platinum disc award, and the group's repertoire came to be dominated by hymns, mostly Methodist. Their 1976 Ukusindiswa became one of their most popular religious albums. By 1981, the group's popularity was such that the apartheid government allowed the members to travel to Cologne, Germany as part of a Southern African music festival. The group toured West Germany and appeared on television, and learned some of the German language; the 1981 album Phansi Emgodini included the group singing in German on the track "Wir GrÃ¼ssen Euch Alle". The following year, the group traveled back to Germany to appear on television during a quiz event, bringing about requests for more live appearances.